ARMA II: Operation Arrowhead PC Review

Nowadays, it’s easy enough to find a First Person Shooter that manages to convey (albeit with some exaggeration) life in the army. With so many militaristic games crowding the bargain bins in Wal-Mart and topping pre-order sales in Gamestop, it’s often hard to remember that there was once a time when you needed a powerful PC in order to experience an authentic military game. With current consoles capable of capturing every grain of dirt kicked up by tanks paving their way through war-torn middle eastern cities, the PC market seems practically forgotten when it comes to the FPS military genre.

But some developers are refusing to give up the fight, no matter how many millions Activision is making from their Modern Warfare franchise. Enter ARMA II: Operation Arrowhead, a First Person Shooter determined to deliver the most authentic army experience to date, for better or for worse. Can Bohemia Interactive make up for what they lack in budget with Operation Arrowhead’s authenticity? Read on.

A stand-alone expansion to the original game, Operation Arrowhead features an original story where the US Army is poised to bring an end to the conflict taking place in the west Asian region of Takistan (a name which somehow sounds more offensive than “Carbombya” from the original Transformers cartoon). As is the norm with every FPS story, tensions are mounted, peace talks are deadlocked, and people eventually settle their differences with guns and explosions.

On the outset, the game features typical FPS game mechanics, from the ever-familiar first person camera, to the assortment of realistic weapons that can be procured from ammo crates and dead soldiers, to the talkative AI squad-mates who seem to have decades more experience than you despite being the same rank. Most missions require players and their teammates to reach a certain target point, take out all nearby enemies, reach another checkpoint, take out more enemies, and rendezvous back with your allies. A few segments have you piloting vehicles like tanks and helicopters, but all in all it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in other first person shooters.

What separates Arrowhead from the rest is its complexity and learning curve. Featuring a large assortment of commands for both simple athletic feats (running and sprinting, crouching and crawling), to advanced combat tactics (ordering squad-mates to get the drop on enemies, adjusting the different lenses of each weapon), the game’s textbook-sized control scheme requires a good chunk of time devoted to the training stages before you can set off to liberate the Takistanis.

Even once you’ve committed all the keyboard commands to memory, don’t expect to go Duke Nukem on the field. Run off on your own all guns blazing, and you’ll quickly take one between the eyes before having to reload the next checkpoint. ARMA II requires soldiers to be slow and patient at all times, properly setting their sights and commanding fellow officers in order to ensure survival. In capturing the realism of army life, Bohemia certainly succeeds.

But does this translate into a  game? That is where your mileage may vary. While authenticity is always appreciated in any adaption, refusing to cut down on the tedium of real-life warfare runs the risk of turning off players looking for a faster and more exciting kick. Despite the dumbed-down Michael Bay approach to warfare found in most console FPS titles, when it comes down to it those games offer the same kind of experience in a quicker, easier to play fashion. ARMA requires a lot of patience, along with a bit of trial and error, to reach what is ultimately the same conclusion, and thus its mechanics feel wholly unnecessary.

For gamers favoring strategy over action for the sake of army realism, Arrowhead rewards your patience with a sizable amount of missions, along with more weapons and vehicles than almost any other game. The experience is somewhat hampered by the visuals, however. Clearly not possessing the same budget as Modern Warfare, Operation Arrowhead’s graphics don’t just look dated, they practically feel amateurish by comparison. This is most apparent when watching your fellow teammates uncannily emote through stiff, robotic animations and movements, giving flashbacks to the classic puppet series Thunderbirds.

This is strengthened further by the electronic voice samples used to tell players where the next wave of enemies is hiding, sounding like a military version of Simon Says. On the plus side, the gun and vehicle models are faithfully reproduced to the point that you can almost feel the individual weights of each weapon, but even on max settings the game fails to impress visually.

Much like our current conflicts in the world, there will be debates on whether ARMA II: Operation Arrowhead is a necessary release in a market cemented by fast-paced shooters. For anyone looking for a slower, more tactical alternative, this could well be the game for you. Operation Arrowhead certainly features a large assortment of content, both offline and online, that rewards its fans, but for those who prefer their shooters to require little thinking and itchy trigger fingers, you may want to pass this one up.

6 out of 10
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